Learning about the Middle Ages at Indiana University

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 indiana UniversityLearning about the Middle Ages at Indiana University

By Danielle Trynoski

In 2008, I graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Medieval Archaeology, after completing a senior thesis focusing on Viking colonization and urban environments. How did I come to have such a specialized degree at a landlocked American university? Well, definitely not by following a straight and narrow path!

I entered IU as a history major and anthropology minor in 2005, but quickly realized that many of my undergraduate peers in the history department were aiming to become teachers in middle schools and high schools. I had absolutely no interest in pursuing that path. I had paired the history and anthropology because I had a long-standing interest in archaeology and material culture reaching back into my childhood, yet the history program offered the medieval history focus that I ultimately prized above other subjects. Before finishing my first year at IU, I discovered the Individualized Major Program.

This program allows students to design a list of cohesive courses in order to pursue a unique major not offered on campus. Students must apply to the department with a statement of purpose, a list of proposed courses, a proposal for a capstone project, and a faculty sponsor. I applied to the IMP to major in Medieval Archaeology, combining courses in European history, anthropology, archaeology, and art history. My faculty sponsor was the wonderful Dr. Deborah Deliyannis, who specializes in early medieval art and architecture, especially early medieval mosaics and the archaeology and history of Ravenna. We met in my first year when I was a student in the early Middle Ages survey course and she was the instructor. She included lots of references to archaeological sites and material culture and had the opportunity to dig at Sutton Hoo under the supervision of Martin Carver. I was very excited to meet with a professor who understands that history is not only found in library books and manuscripts but can be found in material culture and the built environment. When I applied to the IMP at the beginning of my second year at IU, Deborah agreed to be my faculty sponsor.




Applying to the IMP was an easy decision for me. The further I progressed in the history degree the more convinced I became that a change was necessary. Despite being invited into the history department’s honors program and enjoying the seminar which resulted from that invitation, I was increasingly convinced that the program was set up to co-exist with the requirements for “teachers in training.” I wanted another approach to an interdisciplinary degree. Halfway through a course in the autumn of my second year (a course which I did not enjoy on the history of the pre-Civil War South in the U.S.; honestly, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” are classics but still very depressing!) I began compiling my application to the IMP. I already had several courses on my list completed, including “The Black Death,” “The Early Middle Ages,” “The High and Later Middle Ages,” and “Archaeological Ethics.” This fact plus the supporting knowledge that several European universities offer degrees in Medieval Archaeology plus Deborah’s support, led to a smooth admission into the program.

Lilly Library, the rare book library at Indiana University Bloomington. The fountain in front of it is the Showalter Fountain - photo by VmenkovI absolutely loved being an IMP-er. With Deborah’s support, I had near-complete freedom to pursue my interests and create my own course list. This enabled me to pick and choose courses with great flexibility. I completed a field school training program in Ireland and transferred the academic credit as independent study/internship credit under the anthropology department. Even though it was not officially being offered, I worked out an independent reading schedule with Dr. Arthur Fields to study The Reformation for academic credit. I took courses in multiple academic departments and this interdisciplinary program provided greater satisfaction than my constricting history degree. In my third year I completed a senior dissertation comparing Viking urbanism in Ireland and England, analyzing the well-documented archaeological explorations in Dublin and York (you can read that thesis here). This functioned as the capstone project required by the IMP department. This dissertation was reviewed by a faculty panel and the IMP staff. This panel interviewed both myself and my sponsor about my experience in the IMP and my major. Gladly, I passed with flying colors and was awarded departmental honors for my dissertation.

Although I was not even aware of the IMP when I decided to attend IU, I am very glad that it was there for me. It is ideally placed for students interested in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities, since the College of Arts and Sciences at IU offers hundreds of languages, lots of history courses, an experienced archaeology faculty, and many other subjects and courses. The IMP was the ideal way for me to pursue a course of study which is typically only offered in European universities. Deborah Deliyannis was an amazing support, and without her guidance this path would not have succeeded. She also turned me onto my future path, a Master of Arts in Medieval Archaeology which I went on to complete in 2011.

Sharan Newman